Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said the first 32 minutes of Duke’s 81-77 loss to St. John’s on Saturday were not worthy of Duke’s program.
He said he saw blank stares, no communication and players playing like five individuals.
At that point, Duke was trailing St. John’s, loser of 11 straight games, by 11 points. Duke would eventually come back and even took the lead, briefly, but could not hold on.
“It was disgusting, really,” Krzyzewski said of Duke’s play. “ No matter what we said, nothing worked with our team – until the last eight minutes, and then we had a chance to win.
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“You can say ‘why?’ Look, I do not know why. I can tell you that that’s not the group that I have coached all year. And they were a very frustrating group to coach today, because they did not respond to anything.”
Duke led by seven points at halftime, 39-32. But St. John’s came out firing in the second half, while Duke went cold. St. John’s went on a 12-2 run during the first three minutes and 44 seconds of the second half.
The Red Storm (11-13) continued its run and eventually was up 11 points before Duke’s comeback. But that didn’t matter. The damage was already done, and Duke had played one of its worst games of the season.
“We were a tough team to coach today,” Krzyzewski repeated.
It was a different tone for Krzyzewski than in previous losses. He has scoffed at questions he thought suggested that his team was not trying its best in certain areas. But he had never seemed as disappointed as he was on Saturday.
Duke turned the ball over 18 times, one shy of a season-high. Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III led the team with six turnovers. Duke freshman guard Trevon Duval had four turnovers. Freshman guard Gary Trent Jr. had three turnovers and so did senior guard Grayson Allen.
St. John’s scored 24 points off of those turnovers. Some of the turnovers were unforced.
Bagley, who also had 19 points and seven rebounds, called Saturday’s loss “a tough one.”
“We didn’t play hard at all,” Bagley said of those first 32 minutes. “It was a tough one. It happens. We have to stop allowing it to happen.”
When asked why they didn’t play hard, Bagley said he didn’t know.
“We’ve just got to do it together,” he said. “All of us have got to be on the same page.”
Allen, who was 1-for-7 from the floor, said the Blue Devils didn’t play much defense. St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds scored 24 of his 33 points in the second half. After Duke briefly took a one-point lead with 1:34 left in the game, Ponds scored the game’s next five points, including a 3-pointer that put St. John’s up 77-73 with 38 seconds left.
“You can’t let a guy like that get going,” Allen said.
Duke’s loss, while not as bad as a conference loss, comes at a bad time. Duke (19-4) plays rival North Carolina next Thursday. In all of Duke’s previous losses, however, it has responded well. After losing to Boston College on Dec. 9, 89-84, Duke beat Evansville 11 days later, 104-40.
After losing to N.C. State 96-85 on Jan. 6, Duke pulled off five straight wins and never gave up more than 75 points in a game. And after losing to Virginia 65-63 on Jan. 29, Duke responded with a 22-point win over Notre Dame last Monday.
Krzyzewski said his team’s play was unacceptable.
“At halftime, at a timeout, you’ve got to respond,” he said, “and when you don’t, then you’re into your own stuff for whatever reason that is. Whether you’re not ready or you’re sick or whatever. You got to give it up. We didn’t give it up, and the team that was deserving of winning, won.
“And it made the loss, because we came back, all the more frustrating. But the basketball gods understand, in most cases, who should win. So losing when you had a chance to win after not playing well, we got what we deserved.”